The mind is a mighty powerful part of us humans. What we feed it can impact on the living and the dead.
This is increasingly the case as we straddle the disparate beliefs held within families today.
Whereas once upon a time we were predominantly church going folks, not so today. Whereas once we married within our faith community and in some cultures still do, this is becoming less so.
While much of this change frees us from the straight jackets of dogma and rigid adherence to hierarchical ways, for those who break away from these institutional ways, it can also lead to fractures within and between families and friends.
Such are the times we now live in. This story by Monique Ross: Funerals can cause tension between the living and the dead, so whose beliefs matter most? (ABC Radio National Life Matters, 24 Jul 2018) tells us to tread carefully when it comes to matters of honouring our loved ones dying wishes. It also reinforces what we have often said: funerals are for the living – in reality how can it be any other way.
It can be a difficult question to answer, especially for families who disagree about the role religion should play in the send-off of a loved one, Ross reports. Tension over whose beliefs matter the most can blow up into lengthy feuds — and sometimes results in the wishes of the dead being cast aside entirely.
Interfaith minister CiCi Edwards-Jensen recalls meeting a man in palliative care, who had grown up Catholic but later converted to Buddhism. His family knew he wanted a Buddhist funeral, but when the time came, they organised a Catholic one instead.
“I see on both sides how tearing that was — for him the sadness of not being able to have the funeral that he wished, and the other with the family steeped in their Catholicism, not seeing their son have the last rites, and perhaps them believing that he won’t be going to everlasting life,” Reverend Edwards-Jensen said.
It’s a juggling act if ever there was one. Another way of putting it is, navigating funerals of faith through the narrow straits before entering the calmer waters of a safe harbour. This assumes there is a spirit of goodwill between all the parties.
‘When it comes to ensuring a funeral works for the living but also respects the wishes of the dead, the key word is compromise,’ observes Ross.
Interfaith funerals, which include elements of different religions and spiritualities, can be a good solution. “Times have changed, we have a much more inter-faith society now, with so many different populations… and blending of relationships.”
End of life planning when done early offers our best hope for getting things sorted and reducing conflict. At least if it can be acknowledged that funerals mean different things to different people – it’s a start to reducing tension.
For those who say ‘I don’t want a funeral, just bury me, don’t give me any fanfare’, expressing this wish puts it on the table. It also lets those family members who need to have a funeral, an opportunity to farewell and honour their loved one as best they can.
As with advance health care plans, it’s about having the all important conversations. It’s a funny thing. We can discover new things about ourselves and about what we believe and how we express those beliefs, right to the very end.